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Pistons vs. Clippers preview: Blake Griffin returns to face his former team

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The futures of these franchises are going in opposite directions

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons play their seventh road game in nine contests with one win to show for themselves. It gets worse — the team has lost 16 of its past 20 games. It gets even worse — today they face off against Blake Griffin’s former team the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers have a better present (24-17, fifth in the West) and future (eyes on signing two max free agents in the offseason with No. 1 target being Kawhi Leonard) than the Detroit Pistons. There will be a mix of cheers and boos, but mostly cheers, a tribute video to Blake’s eight-year career in LA, and a Pistons lost by 12+ points.

Game Vitals

When: 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass

Analysis

Let’s not make this too complicated. The Clippers are the better team and have the kinds of talent that seems to give the Pistons fits. Former Piston Tobias Harris is having his best season as a pro with career highs in points, rebounds and is having his most efficient season. Harris has a career-high 60.7 true shooting percentage and hitting 42.7 percent of his 3s on 4.5 attempts per game. Griffin also has a career-high 58.8 true shooting percentage and hitting 36.2 percent of his 3s on 6.4 attempts per game.

But the Clippers are more than just Harris — they have an extremely deep, versatile team with contributions up and down the roster. Montrezl Harrell was supposed to be an energy big man but his offensive game has exploded in the past calendar year and now he’s one of the most underrated big men in the game. He’s averaging 15.7 points and 6.7 rebounds off the bench for the Clippers. Danilo Gallinari is healthy and taking 40 percent of his attempts from 3. Patrick Beverly remains a bulldog on the perimeter and Lou Williams remains a dangerous scorer with a knack for getting to the line.

We also need to consider the first-round draft pick the Pistons gave up in the Griffin deal. While Pistons fans have suffered through the Jose Calderon experience and a frustrating up-and-down Reggie Jackson, LA’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like the real deal. Shai has already cemented himself as a starter for the Clippers averaging 9.9 points, 2.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds.

That is a low assist rate, but while the Clippers have one of the lower assist percentages in the league but they spread the wealth around. The team’s assist leaders are Williams (4.9) with eight players averaging between 1.6 and 3.3 assists per game.

It is all in service of one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA because their players know how to make shots. While the Pistons and Clippers have similar shot profiles inside the arc, having Harris, Galinari and Lou Williams taking shots instead of Bruce Brown, Stanley Johnson, Glenn Robinson III and Jose Calderon.

Dwane Casey says that Ish Smith could return on this road trip and there only today’s game in LA and another against the Jazz Monday. Hopefully, Smith returns today. We will update when we learn definitively one way or the other.

Projected Lineups

Detroit (17-23)

Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Reggie Bullock, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Los Angeles Clippers (24-17)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat

Question of the Day

Why ... just why?